Running And Calf Cramps - Cause And Prevention

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For an issue that is so common, it is interesting to see that the running experts don't have an all-inclusive explanation for the causes of leg cramps. A number of factors have been identified that are possible contributors to calf cramps. These include too much exercise / exertion, dehydration, poor nutrition etc.

Too much exercise

One of the known causes of calf cramps is exertion. When your legs are tired and you stretch your calf muscles leg cramps can suddenly hit you. It's the muscle's way of protecting itself and telling you: Buddy, I had enough for today. Sure, maybe tomorrow, certainly the day after, but NO MORE today!"

Dehydration

Even though the link between dehydration and calf cramps is not clear it is argued that it is a reason for calf cramps. So, the calf cramps can also be caused by dehydration. If it is, this could be a reason why many people experience leg cramps during the night. I hardly ever have leg cramps (touch wood!), but when I have them it is often in the middle of the night or when I wake up. Because we don't drink during the night and are lying under warm blankets generally, we dehydrate quite a bit.

Poor nutrition

Important building stones in a runner's diet are sodium, potassium and magnesium. When they are lacking a runner is said to be prone to calf cramps. This could be the other reason that we experience calf cramps during the night because we don't refuel while sleeping.

Thus, exertion, dehydration or poor nutrition are all linked to calf cramps. Striking that there is no clear-cut answer for a phenomenon so common.

What to do when you get calf cramps while running?


If you feel calf cramps coming up during your run, then it is best to slow down. You may be able to keep on walking/running just at the threshold of getting leg cramps or not. When they hit, you will have no choice but to stop your running. Then try to get rid of the calf cramps by stretching your calves and massaging them. A known stretch of the calves is to keep your heels on the ground, pull your toes up and try to reach your toes with your hands. When the pain has subsided, you can try to start running again, but at a slower speed. Also try to avoid any sudden turns, basically anything that will put any extra pressure on your calves. Shorten your run as much as possible and make sure you have a nice warm shower afterwards. After that, apply some heat to the calves, e.g. via tiger balm, arnica oil. This will help blood circulation.


How to prevent leg cramps?

Usually you will know why you got your calf cramps while running. You might have pushed yourself too hard; you might have been ignoring your diet and fluid intake. As said before these are all seen to be contributing factors to leg cramps. So prevention going forward depends on you taking a critical view at those factors and establishing what the cause was. When you are running to become faster, fitter, better you will have the occasional leg cramp attack. But if you feel you are doing everything right and they keep on coming back, then, instead of going for your usual training run, run to see a doctor!

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